Radical Personalization + Knowledge in Action at d.Tech High

Megan Mead

If traditional schools answered the needs of the industrial revolution, then d.Tech is working on the solution for the technology revolution we are in now. Design Tech High School, or “d.Tech” is using design principles to personalize the learning experience for high school students in San Mateo, California.

The school, the only charter school in San Mateo Union High School District, is designed to help young people prepare for dramatic, fast, unpredictable change according to Ken Montgomery, Executive Director and Founder.

“Students are caught between accelerating change and an old system; they’re bored, overloaded, stressed,” said Montgomery. The d.tech solution: extreme personalization and putting knowledge into action.


Active Creation

Prior to coming to San Mateo, Montgomery had the opportunity to start a debate team in the San Diego area. The debate program was something that was actively designed and developed in partnership with the students — and a decade later, the 15 original members of that debate team have seen a lot of success. They attribute their achievements to the opportunity for active creation that being part of that team allowed, being able to start something, see it through and adjust as necessary. That design thinking mindset is central to the work that Montgomery and team are doing in San Mateo. As he points out, “it isn’t about the next 4 years, it’s about the next 40.” Although they participate in regular design challenges, designing thinking at d.Tech is more of a mindset than a foced model. The process is infused in the culture and modeled in the work and interactions among students, teachers and school leaders (and evident in the environment).


Open Concept

The district was in charge of finding the space for the school — the space provided was an old adult learning facility. Central to the environment is the large open concept, a space that was previously an auto body shop.


In the near future, d.Tech will move to the a new space built on the Oracle campus. With this custom build, Montgomery notes that they will keep the feel of the open concept, which encourages the “casual supervision” that is key to the d.Tech culture, but they will look to solve some of the noise concerns present in the current space — glass dividers will be key to this. Students will have access to the Oracle employee bus system and will benefit from a close partnership with the tech company.

No Giving Up

“Competency-based learning means not giving up in a kid until they get it,” said Montgomery

Every week teachers mark students as ahead, on track, or off track using multiple forms of formative assessment. Students schedules are flexible to ensure that students participate in the right class at the right time for them. Originally, these schedules were developed during conversations among staff, they have now been automated through an algorithm, increasing efficiency in the process, schedules are emailed each Sunday to families.


Four times a year, the Bay Area becomes the classroom for these students. They participate in four, week long intercessions that are taught by community partners including Oracle and Wells Fargo. Content teachers are then able to use this time for professional development and planning. Similar to the model designed by Summit Public Schools.

d.Tech currently is home to 9th and 10th graders and will continue to expand a grade a year until they reach full capacity at 550 students, grades 9 – 12. They are working with The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) on performance task development and implementation. We will look forward to following their journey!

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